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  • Provincial Racing NSW


AUSTRALIAN Bloodstock principal Jamie Lovett says he can’t believe the depth of the field for the $1m Inglis Sprint (1200m) at Flemington on Saturday.

Having finished second in the race two years ago with the then Kris Lees-trained Spellcatcher (now racing in Queensland), the major Hunter syndicator is having another crack with fellow Newcastle trainer Nathan Doyle’s lightly-raced Midnight Opal.

“We were unlucky to run into Overpass (subsequent winner of both the $4m The Quokka and Group 1 Wintebottom Stakes in Perth last year), with Spellcatcher,” Lovett said.

“We’ve had this race in mind now with Midnight Opal for quite a while.

“But I nearly fell over when I saw the huge number of nominations (31) earlier in the week, and 19 horses have accepted.

“It’s a very strong race. The fact that our horse is a $21 chance underlines the depth of the field.”

Midnight Opal was a 2022 $190,000 Inglis Classic yearling purchase for Doyle, and later that year as a member of Hawkesbury trainer Blake Ryan’s breeze-up brigade, didn’t reach his $250,000 reserve at the Inglis Ready2Race sale in Sydney as an early two-year-old.

Australian Bloodstock bought into Deep Field three-year-old before he began his career as an early three-year-old.

“He was showing plenty of promise, having won his first two trials, and we were chatting with Nathan about getting involved in the ownership,” Lovett said.

“Nathan had a good opinion of Midnight Opal and wanted to stay in him, so we brought a number of our long-standing clients in to join him in racing the horse.”

Midnight Opal won his first two starts – a Scone Maiden Plate (1100m) on September 22 last year and then a Provincial Class 1 Handicap (1200m) at Kembla Grange on October 7.

He then stepped up to not only city grade but Listed company as well, at Royal Randwick on October 28, and finished a close fourth to talented filly Mumbai Muse in the Brian Crowley Stakes (1200m), beaten only one and a half lengths.

“The form around Midnight Opal is strong as Mumbai Muse went to the Flemington carnival at her next run and won the Group 3 Red Roses Stakes (1100m),” Lovett said.

Midnight Opal has travelled well to Melbourne, and will be ridden by John Allen, who was aboard Mugatoo for Australian Bloodstock when a luckless fourth in Sir Dragonet’s 2020 Cox Plate (2040m) at The Valley.

“We wanted a strong rider for Midnight Opal as he needs to get cover on the straight track at Flemington, and then hopefully let rip,” Lovett said.

“Obviously it’s going to be a difficult race to win, but I’m sure he won’t disappoint us.”

Doyle has prepared 41 winners so far this season and is closing in on a career 250, and Midnight Opal will be his debut Flemington starter.

He has had only one Melbourne runner previously; the now retired Norwegian Bliss who started favorite and ran second to Crosshaven in the Group 3 Kevin Heffernan Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield in November, 2022.

Newcastle three-year-olds have been around the mark in the Inglis feature the last few years.

Lees’ The Bopper ran fourth in 2021 when it was the Inglis Dash (1100m), and stablemate Brudenell was fifth in last year’s Inglis Sprint (1200m).

. There will be three provincial representatives chasing the big prize in Saturday’s huge field.

Kembla Grange trainer Ben Smith runs the filly West Of Dalby (Brock Ryan), and Wyong’s Kristen Buchanan has the colt Chevron (Damian Lane) resuming from a lengthy break.

Story John Curtis, February 29, 2024 - Pics Bradley Photos

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